Aug 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
INTEGRATING INTO A NEW WORLD: THE REFUGEE COMMITTEES
Sir - Thinking back to my own arrival in this country via the Kindertransport in 1939, I realise how important it must have been for many of us, including the older people who reached this country on domestic permits, to be taken under the wing of their local Refugee Committees – or, in some cases, Bloomsbury House, the head office of the Jewish Refugees Committee until its closure some years after the war.
I was a member of staff at Bloomsbury House as I had no other means of income. I worked under a Miss Ney in the Children’s Section and also under Stella Epstein, who was a lovely, warm-hearted refugee from Austria, much older than myself. I was 23 years old when I started there in 1947.
Whenever I met fellow refugees I would ask them: How did you get to Britain? How old were you at the time? Who was responsible for you? The answers were at first confusing. Some of us came before the war, many after the war and - amazingly - some even during the war. It may be a generalisation, but the younger children - say up to 11 years old and safely living with foster parents or relatives - would not even have known of the existence of a Refugee Committee and its function. This is understandable.
But mention Bloomsbury House and memories come flooding back! The youngsters who went to live in hostels would have known of a member of the local committee who could make decisions regarding pocket money, further education or possible vocations, where to obtain clothing when they had outgrown the wardrobe provided by their parents in the one suitcase or rucksack, and much more.
No doubt the Regional Refugee Committees, often staffed by volunteers, did wonderful work in helping us to become integrated into our new world. Let us celebrate their achievement by giving them credit!
I would like to invite anyone whose memory is still good to write to this journal of their experiences - good, bad or indifferent - so that we can compare notes over this very long distance of time.
Sir – First, I would like to thank you for your monthly magazine, which I always read with great interest.
In the last month’s copy I read an article about the book ‘We Remember’, written by
children of the Holocaust who miraculously survived. I decided to order the book from Amazon and just received it today and look forward to reading it.
My late parents were refugees. My mother actually came over on one of the Kindertransports, so it is a subject close to my heart. I had not heard of this book before, so it is actually through your organisation that I became aware of it and thus was able to buy it. Thanks again.
HISTORY OF THE CBF
Sir - George Vulcan, in his interesting - as always - review in your July issue of Heroes of the Holocaust: Ordinary Britons Who Risked Their Lives to Make a Difference, questions whether the story of the CBF (Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief) has been written. It has: Men of Vision by the late Dr Amy Zahl Gottlieb, was published in 1998 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) after many years of extensive research.
‘LACKING FLEXIBILITY AND TOLERANCE’
Sir - I really do worry about Peter Phillips. He seems to see everything in terms of black-and-white in a rather facile way, unable to understand that, even if you are fully assimilated into British society, you can still regard the country of your birth as your Heimat - a lost Heimat maybe, but still a Heimat.
Like Peter Phillips, I speak English without an accent, having come here at the age of nine. I was, of course, educated here, served in the British army and spent most of my professional life in the British public service. This does not stop me from acknowledging my Berlin origins, feeling comfortable with that knowledge and experiencing every visit to Berlin as a homecoming. By being so didactic and lacking in flexibility and tolerance, Peter Phillips is missing out on a valuable experience with which to enrich his life.
Sir – In connection with Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s recent ‘Letter from Israel’ about Theresienstadt, a great-aunt of mine, a woman in her eighties whom we visited from time to time at the Jewish old age home in Nuremberg, was sent there along with all the other inmates. My mother said that that in itself summed up the Nazi regime’s bestiality: couldn’t they have waited for those old people to die naturally – who has ever heard of people from a home for the elderly being sent to a concentration camp?
I well remember my great-aunt. When I saw her last, in the early thirties, she was complaining of dizziness. She had to share her room with another lady who owned a cat, which annoyed her and caused friction between them. Thinking of what happened to her and the others is mind-boggling. She obviously did not survive the camp.
Then there was my father’s stepmother from Vienna who had owned a publishing office there. She had been a very active elderly lady, earning her living diligently. She was among those who took a risk by availing herself of an opportunity to be sent to a rehabilitation place in Switzerland. Several of the others in the camp were too scared to accept the offer, fearing they might be sent ‘east’, i.e. to an extermination camp. Those who accepted were sent to Engelberg, where my step-grandmother wrote her memoirs before passing away.
Another survivor I knew was a lady who moved into a flat opposite ours in London at the end of the war. All survivors of Theresienstadt spoke of the hunger and constant fear they had to endure, yet it was said to be the best of all the camps, a sort of showcase.
Sir - One morning in March 1938 we woke peacefully, only to find the street outside packed with field guns and armoured cars, my school opposite (Gymnasium WIEN XIII) taken over by the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with fixed bayonets. If that was not occupation, Mr Tait Letters, July) ...?
DEPLORABLE CONDITION OF WEISSENSEE CEMETERY
Sir – Recently I took my partner on her first visit to Berlin and took the opportunity to visit the graves of my grandparents, who are buried in the Weissensee Cemetery.
Opened in 1880, Weissensee is not only the most extensive inner-city burial ground in Berlin today, but also the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe in terms of area.
However, we were both shocked at the state of the cemetery. It is severely overgrown and there appears to be no one who cares or spends money to improve the condition of the graves. In 1926 there were 200 staff employed to look after the extensive garden section.
The cemetery is still used to this day. Would it be possible to start a fund, to which I am quite willing to contribute, so that something is done about this deplorable situation? The few non-Jewish workers there must have a rather poor impression when they observe how we neglect our previous loved ones!
Sir - I refer to the letter from Rose Marie Whalley in your last publication and was very surprised to read that she cancelled her subscription to your excellent magazine. It just makes me wonder if she would also cancel newspapers, magazines etc because they were either so violently anti-Israel or so anti-Semitic or why she started reading a magazine which had a different opinion from her. Perhaps she would like to subscribe to the Iran Government so that they can wipe Israel off the earth.
She rightly has her opinion and I have mine, especially as I lived among the Arabs for a considerable time.
In spite of all the controversies and perhaps because of them, I do love your publication and am delighted to pay my contribution whenever it is due.
NEW MEMBERS FOR AJR?
Sir - Thanks to the ‘Arab Spring’, which was naively welcomed and helped by the West, any Jews left in these Middle Eastern countries should flee for their lives. Gratitude to the liberal West was shown by fighters in Benghazi, the birthplace of the ‘Libyan Spring’, who attempted to assassinate the English consul, killing two of his bodyguards recently. Equally, the rebels’ ‘humanity’ was proved by the bandaged fingers of Saif Gaddafi, held by a group in Zintan, who is unlikely to have nails under the dressings.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and in several other countries, has gained power under different names. Their ultimate aim is sharia everywhere and a Muslim world order. Some of the toppled regimes were rather distasteful, but on balance preferable to the emerging ones. Hopefully the internal squabbles will delay the radicalisation of the Middle East.
ALFRED KERR CONNECTION
Sir - Mention of Alfred Kerr by Anthony Grenville in your July issue (‘The case of Gerhart Hauptmann’) reminds me that Kerr’s daughter Judith was appointed OBE in the June 2012 Honours List for services to children’s literature and Holocaust education. Her father was associated with my erstwhile primary school in Berlin, 13 Volksschule, renamed in his honour Alfred Kerr Grundschule.
From 1932 to 1936 there were three Jewish boys in the same class. Apart from myself, there was Felix Frankfurter, now called Franks and an occasional contributor to the Journal who lives in London, and Walter Bloch, now living in Encino, Los Angeles. We three survived and are in regular contact, including visiting each other. I have visited the school twice and on one occasion gave a talk to assembled children and teachers.
‘STAMP COLLECTING FOR GROWN-UPS’
Sir – Re Fred Jonas’s letter (July), Sir Rowland Hill initiated the one penny postage as part of postal reform in the United Kingdom in1839-40. In May 1840 the first-ever postage stamp appeared - the famous Penny Black. Sir Rowland lived in Hampstead, his stay in the area marked by a plaque on the site of the Royal Free Hospital and a street leading to the Hospital named after him.
SOUP PLATES IN NORWICH
Sir – Five stoneware soup plates were recently left at the door of the Norwich Congregation Synagogue. They are embellished with a Star of David and the word ‘fleishig’ (meat) below the star. So far, it is assumed that they belonged to a Norwich Jewish boarding school during the war. Can anybody throw light on the provenance of the soup plates? Was there a Jewish boarding school? If so, where? Any clue gratefully received.
‘TIRED OF LONDON, TIRED OF LIFE’
Sir – Midsummer 2012. At last a day of sunshine is forecast instead of the constant rain, causing floods everywhere. At last the cold wind has turned into a light breeze. A day out in London is on the cards.
We’re off to see some art at the Courtauld Institute, where many wonderful Impressionist painters are on view: Van Gogh, Manet, Gauguin, Renoir and more. A superb collection and our pleasure is compounded when we find drawings by Mantegna and Matisse on view as well. Two hours pass by in great bliss and joy.
Then a short break for refreshments in the café before going out into the sunshine to a seat on the terrace above the busy and bustling Embankment. From here one can see the river sparkling in the sunshine, the many boats travelling up and down filled with happy passengers and the dome of St Paul’s in the distance.
The road below is teeming with people, holidaymakers from all over the world enjoying a pleasant stroll by the side of the Thames. Many Barclays bicycles go by – obviously a tremendous hit with many people both young and old.
How true Dr Johnson’s adage that ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’!
THE AJR’S ‘MERCURY SULPHIDE’ GROUP
Sir – Michael Spiro, Professor of Chemistry at Imperial College London, who recently spoke to our St John’s Wood Group, asked me to send him programmes of all the groups. On seeing the programme for HGS (Hampstead Garden Suburb), he thought it rather odd that there should be an AJR group named after Mercury sulphide - HgS!